Skip to Content

Google Glass Can Now Track Your Stress Level

A new way to track heart and breathing data, demonstrated with Google Glass, could heighten interest in wearable sensors.
September 5, 2014

Besides projecting directions and e-mails in front of your face, Google Glass can also measure biological signs like heart and breathing rates, according to new research. The work suggests a new way for wearable devices to track a person’s stress level and provide instant fitness feedback.

Researchers from MIT’s Media Lab and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing say that they can accurately ferret out this data by monitoring a Glass wearer’s head movements with the gyroscope, accelerometer, and camera built into Google Glass. A paper on the research will be presented at the MobiHealth conference in Athens, Greece, in November.

The project, called BioGlass, could lead to biometric-tracking apps for Google Glass. Looking beyond the controversial head-worn computer, researchers hope their work leads to less obtrusive sensors for self-monitoring via wearable devices.

BioGlass uses the Glass sensors and camera to track the wearer’s ballistocardiogram, or BCG, which is a mechanical signal measuring the tiny body movements that result from the heart pumping blood. BCG tracking has been around since the 1870s, but was hardly used for many years because it was tricky to track without special equipment (such as a frictionless table). More recently, though, research has shown that sensitive motion sensors for electronic devices can easily detect the BCG signal, and at least one company, Quanttus, is building a product that can do so at the wrist (see “This Fitness Wristband Wants to Play Doctor”).

In a study of 12 people, researchers were able to estimate heart and breathing rates nearly as accurately as they could with FDA-approved sensors for tracking the same signals. The results for heart-rate estimation were off by less than a beat per minute and respiration by less than a breath per minute, says Javier Hernandez, a graduate student in MIT’s Media Lab who coauthored the paper.

The researchers built an Android app that captured data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and front-facing camera of the Google Glass device; in order to get a range of physiological parameters, study participants wore it as they stood, sat, and lay motionless, and then again after riding an exercise bike. Researchers then isolated and extracted heart- and respiration-rate data from the accelerometer and gyroscope readings, and tracked motion in the video by noting pixel displacement over time. They then used this data to extract heart and respiration information.

The researchers are now working on several apps that would use this kind of data for practical purposes; Yin Li, a paper coauthor and graduate student at Georgia Tech, says they’re making an app that captures and analyzes the signals that were investigated in the study in real time (for the study, the signals were analyzed after the fact).

There are plenty of challenges ahead. The researchers still need to test their work with big motions, such as walking around, to see if they can get the same level of accuracy. And it may be difficult to convince people to wear Google Glass in the first place, let alone track their body’s signals with the device. At $1,500, the device is about 15 times more expensive than most fitness trackers, and its in-your-face style is polarizing.

But Rosalind Picard, a paper coauthor and MIT professor who heads the Media Lab’s affective computing research group, says that while the group’s work uses Google Glass, the method would work with any pair of glasses embedded with a camera and the right sensors.

“I would love for my glasses to give me a little quiet indication about my breathing so I can adjust it,” she says.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other
conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other

Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love

Fed up with apps, people looking for romance are finding inspiration on Twitter, TikTok—and even email newsletters.

computation concept
computation concept

How AI is reinventing what computers are

Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.

Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.